Being up all night does give me somewhat of an advantage as far as news goes. As I’m writing this even the BBC has not yet covered what’s been seen on NBC, CNN, Russia Today and others. Namely, the reports that Assad has had chemical and biological weapons prepared for use. Obviously, at this point we’re unable to establish if this is fact, what we do know however is that Syria is in possession of these weapons and Assad’s regime is clawing along on its last breaths.
I don’t need to establish how devastating chemical and biological weapons like these can be. We’ve seen many times slaughters, primarily of civilians, occur by their usage. What I want to ask is should we finally become involved in Syria if they are indeed used?
One of the main factors necessary to decide this is confirmation that they have been, or are immediately about to be, used. A UN mission to investigate this is practically impossible at this time due to the fierceness of the fighting. So independent verification would be difficult. Perhaps though this would represent an opportunity for our media to do something positive. During 2011 it was they who gave the public and to an extent politicians insight into Libya, and other places Western governments would prefer public eyes not to venture, such as the suppression of the Bahraini uprising by the GCC. Though I can only speculate on how it is obtained I can be certain that reliable independent verification is obtained is crucial.
Then there’s the legality of such an action. As Liberals we must do our best ensure that all actions taken by our government are legal under international law and oppose them when they are not. It goes without saying that we cannot intervene without UN approval so long as Russia continues to stand by Syria; if they will continue to after chemical or biological weapons are used is unknown. However there is another, far worse, potential cause of legality. Namely if the weapons have an effect on Turkey, in which case NATO has right of defence.
My answer if both of those are fulfilled is yes.
However it may be too late to stop some of the negative effects of prolonged conflict. If Syria is allowed to descend further into bloody chaos it will become a prime place for Islamic extremism to expand. In addition lawlessness could lead to a Somalia by the Med, with severe economic consequences for the EU (Though unfortunately I expect the EU to be split on this as it was Libya). And yet more thousands more refugees will continue to flood out of Syria, something that is already a major concern and humanitarian crisis.
And if we do intervene we shall have to make sure not to give up on Syria after Assad’s fall. Even light touch intervention can have dire consequences if not followed up, as shown in Afghanistan. Investment in building a Syrian democracy and restoring peace will be costly, but when one considers its proximity to our vital interests it would be more costly not to. Let’s hope the US has learnt from the mistakes of the 80’s.
For the public to support this action in Syria it must not be linked in any way to American posturing towards Iran or Israel-Palestine. Public opinion in the UK is massively against any sort of military involvement in Iran, and even the opinion of the government is at odds with the US over Israel; shown by the abstention at the UN and the condemning of settlement projects in E1. We are a war tired nation and a repeat of the ‘Axis of Evil’ linkage will not be conductive.
Ultimately we can only hope for this war to come to an end soon, but we must not allow fears of a repeat of the illegal war in Iraq to stop us doing what may be necessary.
* Mike Green is a student of politics and history from East Yorkshire, who’s been a member of the party for two years.